Richard Janes: My guest today is an award-winning photographer whose stunning work depicts interior design, modern architects, famous residences and resorts, with a small helping of contemporary cuisine thrown in for good measure. Her clients include the National Geographic, Whole Foods, Four Seasons, Hilton, Porsche, Dwell, and Food & Wine, to name just a few. Now, the thing about today’s guest is she didn’t start out with a burning desire to be a top photographer. No. She fell into it by accident. In fact, even the notion of making money as a creative wasn’t something that factored into her mindset growing up—so much so that when time came to go back to college, she took the sensible, dependable route of finance, culminating in a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics where shortly after graduating, she thought, “What have I got myself into?” My guest today is Jill Paider, the first architectural photographer to be awarded a Fulbright Specialist grant by the US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and the publisher of over 15—yes, I said 15, fine art photography books, as well as a travel memoir called ‘Carry-On Only’ where she chronicles her travels from Guatemala to Tokyo carrying with her a simple carry-on as her only luggage. We started our chat jumping right into that moment where she questioned her initial career choice.
Jill Paider: I hated the office. I hated, I think, the normalcy of 9 to 5. Even though I had always worked, I had jobs since I was 12 and for some reason it was like everything came to a crash-down, having to go somewhere from 9 to 5 or earlier or later, you know, in this very corporate office building with pretty much all guys and it just wasn’t my jam and I was bored on the job. My job was to develop the marketing plan for the business and did it in like the first couple of weeks and then, it was just like, “Now what?” You know, there actually wasn’t enough work to sustain the position they had created for me. And so that was part of it too but it didn’t resonate with me. I would go out for lunch and just go for like these long walks and hope I get hit up by a bus before I would back to work just to like not have to go back.
Richard Janes Commentary: “Hoping I’d get hit a bus.” Now, while this might be extreme, how many of us have found ourselves in a job we just didn’t like, and in Jill’s words “just weren’t our jam”? A recent study by Gallup, the global performance management consulting company, found that more than 70 percent of American workers say they don’t feel satisfied with their career choices. Seventy percent. And we see the collateral damage all around us in the form of sickness, depression, divorce, substance abuse. Now, for Jill, she found herself working in a job she hated, but to make matters worse, she was living in England under a visa that was just about to expire. With hindsight, we can see that this cloud certainly had a silver lining. But in panic, she grabs the nearest prospectus she could find and proceeds to pick a course that would enable her to extend her visa. Now, she already owned a camera, so it seemed like an easy decision.
Jill Paider: The course was just really a means to kind of stay in London and hopefully get another job in my background which at the time was business and marketing. I still didn’t really believe that I could be a photographer or a creative of any type full-time. I just thought I was like burning my life away. And so I zoomed through the prospectus, found a full-time photography program, and went and applied, and they said, you know, “We’re sorry. We’ve been full now for a year. Most people coming into this program have lots of experience. You have none. Everybody in that program was in it to be a professional photographer or either a commercial photographer or a fine art photographer.
Richard Janes: Apart from you who was in it to stay in London.
Jill Paider: Right. I was running out of options very quickly because a lot of the other schools had even already started at this point. And so I just sat outside the director’s door for two weeks. Like I went in every day and just said hello, brought him coffee, you know, “I’m just here really excited about potentially coming on the course. If anyone drops out, let me know.” And I have that skill; I think having the business background has given me that particular skill, that shamelessness that it doesn’t bother me to approach somebody. It doesn’t matter how big they are and put something forward, and I think I’m good at that. And even if I get rejected, I just like, well, I already wasn’t doing it so there’s nothing to lose. I just kept coming back and finally, he’s like, “This American is never going away. We might as well let you in.” I was very behind in the course because most people, you know, had studied photography, had been a photographer for five years and I really, I mean, I had a camera like everyone else but really had no experience. So I was just fumbling around in the dark room and I had no idea what I was doing. It was kind of funny because I was so far behind and I was shameless, and so I just caught up as fast as I could and would shoot as much as I could, you know, do anything I could because I had no embarrassment about how bad it was. And so, I tried to employ that mentality and part of it is a willingness to fail and the importance to try it. You get to a point where it’s more painful to not try it or not put momentum towards it than it just to just not do it.
Richard Janes Commentary: We’ve all had the stories of titans who failed on their way to success: From Thomas Edison who made 1000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the lightbulb before the light went on, to Colonel Sanders who at the age of 65 found himself penniless and went door-to-door trying to sell his now-famous fried chicken recipe to restaurants. And had 1009 “No’s” before he got his first sale. Failure, more often than not, is the prelude to success. But it’s this word ‘success’ that often becomes the paralyzer for action. We focus so much on the success part of the equation that we forget what has to come before. Now, in Jill’s case, because she was there for an ulterior motive, she set herself up with a great learning opportunity—a learning opportunity that some of the more seasoned, some of the more success-focused students may well have missed.
Jill Paider: Because I had no attachment to success, I just wanted to learn, you know, I mean, we’re sitting in the color darkroom once for like three hours and I kept putting in the paper upside down. I have terrible low light vision and it was just like you’d come out to the main room where the paper would come out after you put it through the enlarger, and, you know, everyone had these beautiful colored prints and mine were just like blank. And the course director, the guy who ultimately let me into the program was just looking at me and shaking his head, and like going back in and going back in and learning. And I think particularly in photography it was helpful because a big part of photography is going after things and asking people for permission for things or access to things or approaching clients with proposals or ideas. And you have to be so fearless about getting rejected because you're going to get rejected probably 98 percent of the time.
“No.” “Nah-uh.” “Uh, no.” “Nope!”
And so that I just didn’t care. I wasn’t hung up. I didn’t think I was a good photographer. I just kept doing everything I possibly could. And I did catch up in the course and I ended up graduating with a distinction.
Richard Janes: Where did that come from?
Jill Paider: The shamelessness?
Richard Janes: Yeah!
Jill Paider: I think part of it, you know, growing up where I did, people have a very strong work ethic so it’s just work as hard as you can. As long as you're working hard, you're a good person; and so, as long as you're putting effort forward, you're okay. It doesn’t matter if you're like failing or not making it. You just have to be doing the work. And so, a part of it I think comes from the discipline of that and then, you know, I don't know, I think it was just not having other options, frankly. Like I knew I was there, I knew I was behind and I didn’t care. I was just going to do the best I could do and there’s nothing else you can do, frankly.
Richard Janes: At what point did that cross over where the penny dropped and you went “I can actually make a living doing this”?
Jill Paider: It's a business where there’s so much uncertainty that there’s a part of you that always questions it, you know, always question, you know, “Am I going to be doing this in the next 6 months? Am I going to continue doing this?” You just feel uncertainty about it. You feel uncertainty about the market. I think in any freelance job, there’s a part of you that questions that, at least for the first 5 years and then you kind of get beyond that point and it’s like, “Well, do I want to keep doing this?” or “How do I up-level this?” And that question I think still comes up from time to time. You know, taking pictures is such a small percentage of being a photographer. It’s something that’s really hard particularly for young photographers or people transitioning into the career to understand. People think being a photographer is about taking pictures, and it really only is about 10 percent of the time. The rest is like pre-production or post-production, but a lot of it is creating a moment on set or it’s just creating the shoot in general in a matter of minutes and things are going to go wrong and you have to be able to just work with whatever problem and situation you have.
Richard Janes: You know what I love here? I was a director of movies for a while and, actually, when I looked at it, the only thing that I liked was working with the actors, which was 10 percent. And all the other stuff, I didn’t really like. What you're talking about here is the taking the photograph is just the 10 percent, but what you said actually was your big passion wasn’t the clicking of the button; it was the other 90 percent to a certain extent that actually is your passion.
Jill Paider: It is.
Richard Janes: I think there are so many people that burn out because they think their passion or that passion perhaps is just the click of the button and they don’t want to do anything else. Whereas when it’s a business and it's a career, you’ve got to do the other 90 percent. And if you don’t love it, then you're going to be up shit creek.
Jill Paider: I think it's perseverance and just persistence like first of all, knowing what you want and then going after it in a variety of different ways. So like, say, for example, those won’t have worked out, it’s finding a Plan B and producing that in a short amount of time to make it happen. So, it’s hitting it as hard as you can and then if it's just not working, finding another way to go about it or go after it or see what other opportunities might be there. I think that is the life of a photographer for the most part. It's 90 percent of it. So when people send their kids to me, I’m like “Don’t do it,” like I’m not taking responsibility for your parents’ money for an undergraduate degree in photography that isn’t really going to get you anywhere. And so I emphasized like the importance of having other skillsets and making them understand that, you know, this is a career that’s changing a lot. It’s changed a lot in the last five years; it's going to continue to rapidly change and no one really knows where the market is going to land. And so you need to be flexible, you need to have a strong skill set and a business background if it’s something that you want to do but being a freelance creative or creative solopreneur is not for everybody. I think in our society we don’t like to talk about that, right, because we’re brought up to believe we can have it all; and if you're not having it all, it’s something you're doing wrong. But life is really about choices and decision. The word ‘decision’, the etymology actually means to cut off, right? So it’s about what are you cutting off and so you have to really want it. I think it's important in anything you do, right? It’s to kind of really evaluate what that means and what’s realistic—what’s idealistic but what’s also realistic for that. So I think in many ways, like I could have a family, I could have five kids and like live in the suburbs somewhere and go to Costco on the weekend. I had to cut that out to do what I do. There have been days where I’ve been on shoots and they’re just like, you know, not going well or not the type of shoot I want to do or I’m just like “What am I doing with my life?” It's usually because I’m shooting content that’s not really my jam. I have to kind of take a little break and remember how lucky I am to do what I am doing, and I ask myself “Would you rather be working in a normal job, in an investment bank?” At least you get to come on this job for how many ever days, like 3 to 5 days and then you get to leave, you do the post-production and you're done, and you can do something else. So even though it's not great in this moment, it affords you a luxury to do other things that you want. Fortunately, though, that doesn’t happen very commonly and it rarely, if ever, happens anymore. I think I wish I would have known what a commitment this career was and that it’s a choice and you're going to have to make choices along the way, and so having something it’s going to necessarily mean cutting out other things. So that would be number one like knowing the commitment. I wish I would have known some of the basic business aspects of dealing with clients, you know, because when you're a solopreneur, you're kind of in these David versus Goliath situations sometimes with big clients. And so just from the professional aspect of dealing with that, dealing with things like estimates, you know, getting your pricing right and estimates and kind of the legal terms and conditions, all those things that we hate doing, I wish I would have had a little more information on that upfront and had kind of the proverbial “balls” to go with it with clients and to kind of, you know, put my foot down on certain things. And the last thing, I wish I would have not been afraid to kind of admit where I was at, at the time I was at because when I first started out, I felt like I was always pretending to be a more experienced photographer. I know that sounds dumb but I felt like I was pretending or kind of glamorizing what I was doing or where I was at instead of not just to other people but to myself a little bit instead of just like taking full inventory of where I was at and then doing whatever it took to get to the next level because I think I kind of internally lied about it to myself a little bit, like I wanted to be at a higher level, I didn’t know how to get there and instead of like taking those kind of hard next steps, I just kind of fumbled the facts in my head a little bit.
Richard Janes Commentary: And this internal lying to yourself plays to an old adage that if you're not where you want to be in life, the trick is to simply fake it till you make it. Imitate the confidence and competence and by doing so, you can realize those aspirational qualities in your real life. Now, in my work away from this podcast where I help people connect that passion and purpose to their authentic personal brand, I call BS on this theory for just the reason that Jill explained. Knowing deep down that you're not only lying to other people, but in fact you're lying to yourself which can take its toll and actually have the opposite effect where you live in such fear of being found out that you inhibit your own growth. Now, instead of the “fake it till you make it” approach, I work with all my students to “mine it till you find it.” Dig dip to find that unique perspective you bring to your chosen field no matter how new you are to it and double down in that area. Own that unique perspective, and then, even standing alongside a seasoned professional, you provide real authentic value, a unique point of view—and often, this manifests itself in other life passions, other loves that fill your heart. For Jill, after taking up the lease on a brick and mortar studio and becoming landlocked she had that realization that she could pair her passion with photography with another passion.
Jill Paider: Passion for travel—I think being in a small town, not having a lot of stimulation, not having like arts, culture, education, right? And so, I was kind of like a loaded gun, right, for 18 years ready to go. And we took small trips in the region as a family and I studied Spanish in high school and a Spanish student of the year and went to Spain with a group and I fell madly in love. Right? When you're from kind of a rural farming town and you're out in a city for the first time, it’s a big deal. Not the first time ever in a city but a city the size of, say, Madrid. Right? It's a really big deal and I was, you know, I fell in love and was fascinated, and I had always known there was a huge world out there but I had never really seen it until that trip.
Richard Janes: So then we look further forward now and you've searched a hundred countries to look for something different.
Jill Paider: Yes.
Richard Janes: Is the world that different?
Jill Paider: I think in essence, I don’t think people are that different but I think the world is pretty different. Whether you base on the longitude, latitude, where it is, the topography of different regions, the food, the culture and then just the combination of all those things makes it unique. It's not that it's so different from us or something we can’t relate to but it’s kind of the uniqueness of it, the uniqueness of a new place.
Richard Janes Commentary: And if there’s anyone who knows what the world is like, it’s Jill who 24 months before hitting 40 set herself an audacious challenge.
Jill Paider: A very good friend of mine had told me about this club called The Century Travelers’ Club where in order to get in you’d have to have been to 100 countries. And so I look through the list, figured out that I had to been to like 78, right, on their list. And she was traveling, she was trying to get to her 100 by a certain a decade as well and so, we just started doing it. Once you have a list, it’s almost impossible not to like keep going and so my travel schedule was going up and up and so I just know with that in mind, I just kept ticking things off and, you know, if I was in a region I would try to visit as many other places as it made sense to do so at the time and just kind of kept moving up and up. I got really close and made it in time. Yeah, it took a lot because I mean I was at 78, I think, at like 38. You know, so in two years, hitting the other 22 countries was quite a bit because I wasn’t just like going there and touching down, you know, I was going to spend time and I had been doing all this crazy travel so I had hard drives and hard drives of images and I thought, well, those images, they can’t really live in your portfolio, they can’t live in your website. It’s just too many. And so I thought, well, I probably have enough here for one book so I started going through them and kind of sectioned them out into 5 different places to see. “Oh, maybe one of these five will kind of work as a book,” and I just slowly started working on all of them, you know, somewhat simultaneously and they all worked out. It all turned out to be like enough solid content for 5 books instead of one. So I went in it with the idea of doing one not knowing where that was going to take me, not really having a team of people to rely on and then I just slowly worked through that process. So at the time I put them together, had the first round printed and then worked with a publishing agent. The agent, we went around and started looking at the options and because I wasn’t a celebrity author and because, you know, you're not this and you're not that, and you have to pay for this and pay for that, I’m like “Well, why would I actually go with a publisher? This makes no sense.” Like you're getting all the money, you're getting all the copyrights of the images which is a big deal for me, and the biggest issue was they’re not producing the books on the level that I had produced them because I had spent a lot of time looking at printers, the printing papers, the options, the binding. So the books that I had produced were super, super high quality like as high as you can get. Coffee table books are limited edition fine art books, so they’re actually printed on demand. They’re made here in Los Angeles. Each image goes through the printer one at a time. They’re not mass produced. So I got the books into the Architecture and Design Museum. They hosted the launch of the first 5. I market them, I have the whole engine behind that for marketing them and getting them out and getting them seen, and so to go down from that just didn’t make sense. So I incorporated my own publishing company and so published under that name. In fact, it was the day of the book launch, right, I had this big event at the Architecture and Design Museum in Los Angeles and I hadn’t even opened the books. I got them back from the printer two days before and I was too scared to open them. And so it wasn’t until I got to the event, right, we're getting everything ready for the night that I had opened it and looked at them. I just couldn’t do it. I was so nervous. I had so much anxiety and I thought “These look terrible. What am I going to do?” Fortunately, they turned out gorgeous. Oftentimes, I think to the outside world or people following you on social media, they think “Oh, you just have this dream life traveling and doing what you're doing and you have no worries. And, you know, everything is just super certain for you,” and it’s never been that way. It’s always been 100 percent unscripted and uncertain and I wanted to get that out and also inspire people to travel with the book. The problem with certainty is that it’s boring, right? And so you get to a point when things are too certain you get agitated because it’s just boring, you know what’s coming next. The reverse is also true when things are too uncertain, right? You have no certainty in life. You need something, you long for something to ground you. So it’s kind of that balance for me. And I think for most creatives that’s true because you've already jumped off a cliff to become a solo creative or a solopreneur, right. you're already jumped off that cliff. So there’s a part of you that really doesn’t like certainty that much because you wouldn’t be where you were. Right? And you're winning the battle against uncertainty. Right? But then, you know, there’s that place where you want to make longer-term commitments and kind of know what’s coming next and then uncertainty becomes a little more inconvenient.
Richard Janes Commentary: Our inability to tolerate uncertainty is one of the biggest anchors to our personal growth. As Jill rightly points out, it’s a battle we all have with ourselves no matter how much we’ve pushed through in the past. While some of us may crave stability in one form or another, research from Yale suggested the brain actually benefits from volatility. When situations are more difficult to predict, the brain’s prefrontal cortex sees more activity which can, in turn, enhance its ability to absorb more information. In stable, predictable environments, the brain has a lot less work to do, so it isn’t firing in the same way. So what can we take from this? If we want to grow, we have to embrace the uncertainty. If we want to take our life or career to the next level, we have to embrace the uncertainty.
Richard Janes: What advice would you have for someone who has yet to find their passion and purpose?
Jill Paider: I think I know a lot of people in that position that may have not had the opportunity to, you know, pursue things that they like to do in that way. I think just taking time, probably working with somebody is probably the best bet to figure out what it is and there are tons. Of course, your program is one of them, you're a great coach for that. Definitely working with somebody, working with a coach is probably the best way to do a transition especially if it’s in mid-life. A lot of people, you know, aren’t aware of where their interests lie or their true passions lie because they feel like that isn’t a possibility necessarily as a career. I think working with somebody is always helpful especially when you're stuck. Sometimes you just need to take a long vacation too, so maybe traveling, going somewhere, checking out for a little while. But I really think at that point like if you're over specifically 20, right, we're not talking about you’re a freshman in college and you don't know what you're going to do the rest of your life but if you're beyond that phase, you're transitioning with a career, I really recommend working with somebody who can take you through that process because it’s a big process. And there are a lot of moving parts too like sometimes it’s not just your career, it’s maybe having and amping up more time for your creative passions, making changes in your relationship. The puzzle gets bigger as you get older and sometimes just tweaking a few things makes all the difference and you realize you don’t actually need to quit your job and move to a foreign country. Sometimes you do but you’ll always need to like change everything. Doing your branding workshop helped a lot with that, just clarifying it and getting kind of into your heart center and knowing, you know, that that’s what you want to do, having a track record of success doing it. And then, you know, kind of repeatedly asking the question and now I’m at the point where I know, you know, it involves travel, it involves the visual imagery element, it involves other artists and women, like it’s women focused, you know, there’s a purpose of being out in the world. You know, hopefully it helps other people follow their passion and purpose in life and up-levels women in a career that they didn’t really have 20 years ago or weren’t as accepted in. I had always just taken it for granted that, you know, I had a choice to go to school, I had a choice to get married or not get married. I had a choice to go into a creative profession or become an entrepreneur. And a lot of these choices we have are not choices in other places and so, I’ve become pretty passionate about exercising that choice because it’s one that frankly not a lot of people have. And in Travel Memoir I talk about it a lot, you know, especially as a female traveler, photographer, you know, creative business owner who’s not married, doesn’t have kids, you know, that is disrupting the social order of the majority of the world. Right? That’s not a choice a lot of people have and I think it’s important for creatives, not just women, but creatives of all type to kind of bond together and help each other out as much as we can and bring that to the world because the world really needs it, right? We don’t sit around and say we need more investment bankers. We do need them but we probably don’t need a lot more, right? We need people who are creatively inspired doing what they love to do and contributing the world in the way they want to contribute to it. And so I think inspiring people to do that, for me, has become more and more important because I see that, one, people aren’t doing it in cases where they can and also that, you know, a large majority of the world just doesn’t have that ability for a wide variety of very legitimate reasons. And as I travel more and more, you know, being in the global world humbles you. You realize that a lot of people don’t get to pick their destiny, so to speak. They don’t get to work in careers that they love. A lot of women in particular, don’t work outside the home or can’t work outside the home or can’t work in creative roles. It's just not a part of the culture, it’s not a part of the economy. So I think having the ability to do that comes with a certain responsibility to help promote it and hopefully help other people follow their passion to the extent that they can.
Richard Janes: What’s your definition of passion?
Jill Paider: Passion for me is anything that, you know, makes your heartbeat faster or something that when you're doing it, you don’t notice time and that you just feel kind of the adrenaline rushing through your veins, that you know when you're doing it, you know you were put on this earth to do that. I’m only happy when I’m creating and when I’m challenging myself and when I’m not doing something I haven’t already done to some extent. And the purpose is, you know, to some extent what you’re meant to be doing but it’s really the strategy behind what you're doing. It’s knowing kind of the outcome ultimately of what you want and not just, like, saying photography is not just like a monetary outcome; it’s you have a purpose that’s bigger than your basic needs. So my passion is photography, visual imagery, anything in the creative realm directing visuals. And my purpose is bringing creatives together, helping out other artists and particularly up-leveling women in the world.
Richard Janes: What would you say to someone who knows their passion but has yet to embrace it?
Jill Paider: I would encourage them in every way I possibly can and gently remind them that “someday” is not a day. You know, when you look at it, we never know how much time we have here but you want to use your youngest best years going for it. And whatever it is, it’s probably causing you more pain not to do it than it would to start taking steps toward it, as scary as it might be. I’d also recommend and I’ve said this, I know, over and over in our talk but, you know, reaching out for help and it could be a professional coach, somebody at your level, Richard. It could be even just an accountability partner or friend, a group of other people maybe wanting to do the same thing. Just something to start moving the marker towards what you want because there comes a point in time—and I know this in my own personal projects and things that I’ve wanted to do— we're not getting momentum on that, really it starts to depress you because you know you're supposed to do it, you know you can do it on some level and you're just not doing it.
Richard Janes Commentary: And this is a great place for us to end today’s podcast. If you're looking to embrace passion and purpose in your life, it is so much easier to make progress when you surround yourself by people who will hold you accountable and support your vision. Be that through a one-on-on coach, an online community or simply a couple of friends where you get together to set goals and report back on a regular basis where you’ll be called out if you're not stepping up in the way you should be. Those at the top of their game all have coaches and mentors in their life. The question is, do you?
Richard Janes: Thank you so much for joining me today and I look forward to following you on social media and seeing where on earth you're going to be next month and the month after that and the month after that, and your 30th book.
Jill Paider: Thank you so much.